by Nancy Callinan, MA, OTR, CHT
Whether you find cooking a joy or a chore, it shouldn’t be a pain. Arthritis can present many challenges in the kitchen, whether you struggle to open cans and containers, find it difficult to grip the tools you need, or are simply unable to stand at the stove for long stretches of time because of pain in your knees or hips. If you’re ready to call for takeout most nights because you can’t handle the pain and fatigue of preparing a meal, you may need to rethink your kitchen strategy. Preparing a meal at home can be pain-free if you make a few changes to the way you cook and prepare food. These tips and techniques will help you get back in the kitchen.
Easier dinner preparation starts at the supermarket. To save yourself a few steps at home, take advantage of foods that are washed, sliced, and ready to use. Some items to look for include the following:
You don’t have to spring for a complete kitchen remodeling to reap the benefits of a more ergonomic kitchen. Investing in a few practical gadgets and updating your storage methods can make your kitchen a much more comfortable place.
Start by rethinking the way you store things in your kitchen. Move the equipment and tools you use most frequently to storage spaces at waist-to-eye level, where you can easily access them without bending or reaching. Relocate any heavy gear and supplies that you don’t use often to lower cupboards and drawers, saving higher spots for lightweight items. Consider adding hooks near the stove to store your most frequently used pots and pans.
Look for gadgets that can help minimize reaching and stretching. Pullout shelves make it easy to find kitchen equipment located in the back of your cabinets. Adding a turning shelf such as a lazy Susan to your cupboard allows you to easily access items that would otherwise end up in the back of your cabinet. Consider investing in a cart on wheels for your kitchen so you can easily transport items around your cooking space.
This is also a good time to try out any energy-saving electric tools you have. Adding ingredients to the bowl of a stand mixer is much easier than trying to grip a hand mixer while adding items. Pack up your manual can opener and use an electric one instead. If you have an electric knife, see if it makes it easier to slice meat and bread. You may have labor-saving tools that you simply don’t think about using because they’re not a part of your everyday routine.
Consider the weight of your dishes, pots, and pans. If they’re heavy and unwieldy, it may make sense to invest in a lighter set, or perhaps just a few lighter pieces for everyday use.
If you buy ingredients in bulk to save money, consider dividing them into smaller storage containers that are easier to lift and handle. When you’re shopping for storage containers, choose ones that are easy for you to use. Look for easy-open lids and zipper closures to minimize strain on your fingers.
When you first learned how to cook, dealing with joint pain might not have been something that you even considered. If you started cooking in your pre-arthritis days, take a minute to evaluate your kitchen techniques. It’s likely that a few simple changes could make meal preparation less painful.
Sometimes having the right utensils can make all the difference. The tools described below can help you save energy and protect your joints.
Last Reviewed on March 23, 2011
Nancy Callinan is Manager of Hand Therapy at TRIA Orthopaedic Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
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